This week at the station
This week at Macquarie Island: 20 December 2013
Macca Gallery - Merry Christmas
Steve reminisces on his 600+ days on Macca
Six hundred days on the island clicked over for me a couple of days ago. I depart on the Aurora Australis early next week heading for home via Casey Station then Hobart and onto New Zealand.
My time here started in March 2012 with pre-departure training and Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP) training in Hobart. I was arriving on the island to work as a dog handler in the second ground hunting year of the rabbit eradication. I am leaving having spent the second half of my stint here as the Eradication Team Leader, working with a great group of people in year three, striving for certainty that we have indeed removed the last rabbit and searching for proof of absence with the rodent populations that once plagued Macquarie Island.
The island has become home over that time, the weather an integral part of the existence, most of the people have changed, and the animals have cycled through their breeding phases for second time since I have been here. The speed of the natural events appears heightened, experiences that I have appreciated even more so this time around, noticing details previously missed.
The arrival of the first bull elephant seals was all too rapidly replaced by the weaning of the pups and the departure of the females. The beaches having filled up with seals in September were again empty by the end of November apart from the weaned pups above the tide line. As the juvenile and adolescent elephant seals arrive back on shore to moult and slop around in mud-filled wallows, relieving their itchiness, the weaned pups are discovering the joys of weightlessness, lolling about in the inshore waters at dawn and dusk, having known only the restrictions of being a heavy seal on land. They will soon face the threat of the Orca that patrol the shores and make a long journey to the continental shelf. Five weeks with mum and life from there on in is up to them.
Heading back to the ocean on my own voyage will encounter some changes and challenges as well as reflection on an amazing experience. Twenty odd months without mobile phone culture, irregular contact with the outside world and life in a close knit community, my perspective will take some adjusting once I get home. No longer will the commute to work include negotiating penguin traffic and seal log jams on a beach nor will I get to experience washing from a bucket outside a plateau hut in a 20 knot Northwesterly for a while.
I am sure I will look back fondly on the simplicity of working in the field where life boils down to – food, hunting, warmth and sleep. Where entertainment consists of the joy of a good book, a game of cards and a meal and a laugh shared with brothers in arms.
The MIPEP project has been a wonderful chance to get to know the island during the day and at night. To meet and know a wonderful mix of people, to experience the Sub-Antarctic and to see firsthand the impacts of introduced species on the concentrated ecosystem that exists here, an island that serves as a breeding base for a huge area of the Southern Ocean.
Equally it has been rewarding over the past two years to see the signs of recovery. New patches of tussock (Poa foliosa) and cabbage (Stilbocarpa polaris), and the fields of another mega-herb, Pleurophyllum hookeri, carpeting sections of the island. The teams I have worked with have been outstanding in their commitment to the cause. We have travelled over 79,000 kms in the three years of ground hunting to date, (nearly twice around the earth) searching for sign of rabbits and rodents and spent thousands of hours hunting at night with the spotlight, admiring the occasional aurora along the way.
The project has been well supported by the Australian Antarctic Division on the island and in Hobart and I leave as a proud team member. Thanks to everyone in the two teams I have worked with for their friendship and commitment. All the best for the remaining few months and I look forward to the day when we can celebrate the achievements of our collective time here.
Until next time....
Stephen Horn (written just before departure on the 14th of December 2013)
V2/3 summer insertion
It has been with eager anticipation that the winter crew of 2013 awaited the arrival of the Aurora Australis (AA), with estimated arrival dates coming and going due to Voyage 1's longer than expected re-supply of Davis. To finally see the old girl anchored in Buckles Bay ½ a day early was to set the tone for the following days of V2/3s part re-supply.
By 1200 hours the ship had LARCs' at the stand by, inflatable rubber boats (IRBs) lining the beach, machinery checked and inspected, 13 rooms made up for the incoming personnel and 20+ happy smiley faces going about all the other final checks and cross checks to make sure all was in readiness.
Six LARC loads later dear old Macca delivered its own style of greeting in the form of 40 knot winds and rain putting an end to the jump start that we had taken advantage of.
Sunday morning dawned a new day and at around 5am when most on station rose, we were greeted with blue skies low wind and the AA back in the bay. By 1830 some 70+ inbound consignments had been landed and 60 Return to Australia (RTA) cage pallets transferred to the AA to be dealt with back in Hobart.
As always with the arrival of the AA there are friends departing as well as the ones coming in; we had five expeditioners leave. Three scientists, Grant, Ingrid and Natalie had a bonus extra week to do their Macca projects after they arrived on the L'Astrolabe only 6 weeks ago. The MIPEP supervisor Steven Horn had been here for almost two years and then there was our FTO Marty Benavente who had trained us back in Kingston and travelled down on Voyage 4 with the rest of the winter crew back in February this year. The other extra bonus for all these travellers was the trip south to do the re-supply at Casey something they never thought they would ever have the opportunity to doing, (going to Antarctica that is, not the Casey re-supply) making the extra time away from family and friends a lot easier to except. Each of the outgoing crew where issued a 'care' package to help them survive the long voyage home.
Congratulations to all involved with the visit of the AA, both on the ship and onshore for making it a safe, effective and efficient transfer of all the cargo and personnel.
All the best for the remainder of the voyage from all of us on the sponge!
An evening with the orcas
Last Thursday we were treated to a special event. A pod of six orcas came into view off Garden Cove. The word went out and soon nearly everyone on station was up at the Ham Shack for a better view.
We were not disappointed as the orcas carried out sorties close to the shore of Garden Cove.
It was a beautiful evening, with light wind, and a setting sun making almost perfect conditions for photography.
A couple of the orcas made runs for the weaners that were in the water and unaware of the danger that they were in. There were some lucky escapes, though at least a couple of the young seals were not so fortunate.
There was some decent photographic gear clicking away up on the deck of the Ham Shack. Some pretty good footage was also taken on video cameras.
Below are some of those images.